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Buckner v. Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

October 25, 2017

Jeffery L. Buckner, Plaintiff,
v.
Lynchburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          This case is before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for wavier of costs. (Dkt. 40). The motion arises out of the aftermath of Plaintiff's suit against Defendant alleging a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (“ADEA”). See Buckner v. Lynchburg Redevelopment & Hous. Auth., No. 6:16-CV-00070, 2017 WL 2601898 (W.D. Va. June 15, 2017). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court referred this matter to Judge Robert S. Ballou for a recommended disposition. Judge Ballou's Report and Recommendation, (dkt. 43, hereinafter “R&R”), advises this Court to deny Plaintiff's motion for waiver of costs and award Defendant costs in the amount of $1, 714.68. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R. (Dkt. 44, hereinafter “Objections”). Because I find Plaintiff's Objections lack merit, I will adopt the R&R in full, deny Plaintiff's motion, and award costs to Defendant.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

          Defendant moved for, and was granted, summary judgment based upon its presentation of “evidence supporting its legitimate overqualification rationale for not hiring Plaintiff . . . .” Buckner, 2017 WL 2601898 at *1. While recognizing that Plaintiff had made out a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework, this Court found Defendant stated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not hiring Plaintiff: overqualification. Id. at *4. After finding that sufficient objective reasons supported overqualification as a negative trait, the burden then shifted back to Plaintiff to demonstrate the reason was merely a pretext. Id. at *6. In granting summary judgment, this Court found Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Defendant's overqualification reason was a pretext, and could not satisfy the high “but-for” causation standard required for his claim. Id. Plaintiff then filed the instant motion for wavier of costs.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides, “[u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). “Indeed, the rule gives rise to a presumption in favor of an award of costs to the prevailing party.” Teague v. Bakker, 35 F.3d 978, 996 (4th Cir. 1994).

         When a district court finds that a departure from the general rule is warranted, it must articulate “some good reason for doing so.” Id. (quoting Oak Hall Cap and Gown Co. v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 899 F.2d 291, 296 (4th Cir. 1990)). The Fourth Circuit recognizes two hallmark “good reasons”: punishment and poverty. Cherry v. Champion Int'l Corp., 186 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 1999) (“[O]nly misconduct by the prevailing party worthy of a penalty . . . or the losing party's inability to pay will suffice to justify denying costs.” (quoting Congregation of The Passion, Holy Cross Province v. Touche, Ross & Co., 854 F.2d 219, 222 (7th Cir. 1988))). The Fourth Circuit has recognized other “good reasons” including: excessiveness of costs; the limited value of the prevailing party's victory; or the closeness and difficulty of the issues decided. Cherry, 186 F.3d at 446. While bringing suit in good faith is “a virtual prerequisite to a denial of costs in favor of a prevailing party, ” good faith “alone is insufficient . . . .” Teague, 35 F.3d at 996.

         In reviewing a Report and Recommendation, a district court “is only required to review de novo those portions of the report to which specific objections have been made.” Farmer v. McBride, 177 F. App'x 327, 331 (4th Cir. 2006). A district court judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).

         III. Discussion

         Contending that the Court should waive Plaintiff's payment of Defendant's costs, Plaintiff advances two objections to Judge Ballou's R&R: (1) the case was “close and difficult”; and (2) it is more difficult for Plaintiff to pay the costs than for Defendant to bear its own costs. The Court finds Plaintiff's Objections without merit, and both will be overruled.

         A. The Case Was Not a “Close and Difficult” One

          Plaintiff objects to Judge Ballou's R&R contending that since “the case in question was a close and difficult one . . ., ” the Court should deny Defendant the costs it would be entitled to as the prevailing party. (Objections at 1-2 (citing Teague, 35 F.3d at 978). Specifically, Plaintiff posits that the issue of “whether Defendant's defense of Plaintiff's ‘overqualification' was a genuine reason for the [Defendant's] refusal to hire him, or was merely pretextual, ” was a “close and difficult” one. (Objections at 2).

         Cases categorized as “close and difficult” appear “reserved for those matters that involve extremely complex legal principles and that are resolved in such a manner that it would be inequitable for the putative victor to be able to shift his costs to the putative loser.” See Selman v. Am. Sports Underwriters, No. CIV. A. 84-0099-C, 1990 WL 265980, at *2 (W.D. Va. July 31, 1990) (holding that no waiver should be given despite the “hard fought” nature of the case and, unlike patent litigation, the breach of contract action did not pose sufficiently complex legal issues). See also Ellis v. Grant Thornton LLP, 434 F. App'x 232, 235 (4th Cir. 2011) (finding it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to deny costs in the amount of $61, 957.45 to the prevailing party when multiple “issues in the case were close and difficult” and the “case was hotly contested at trial and in previous appeal.”); Teague, 35 F.3d at 981-85 (finding defendant's liability a “close and difficult” question in a suit involving “numerous defendants [and] alleging common law fraud, federal and state securities fraud, state timeshare fraud, federal and state RICO violations, and negligence . . . .”); Lucas v. Shively, No. 7:13CV00055, 2015 WL 2092668, at *2 (W.D. Va. May 5, 2015) (finding the “significant factual development, and the legal issues touch[ing] ¶ 42 U.S.C. § 1983 liability, qualified immunity, [] probable cause analysis, ” and fingerprint analysis methodology were sufficient to constitute a “close and difficult” case).

         Plaintiff's lone age discrimination claim does not rise to the level of being so “close and difficult” as to warrant a waiver of costs. The legal analysis, while involved in its burden shifting, is not overly complex (unlike a securities fraud or patent case). The case did not go to trial and was not appealed. Moreover, Plaintiff mischaracterizes his case as “turn[ing] on whether Defendant's defense of Plaintiff's ‘overqualification' was a genuine reason for the [Defendant's] refusal to hire him, or was merely pretextual.”[1] (Objections at 2). Although an issue in the case, I concluded that even if Plaintiff was able to demonstrate it was a pretext, he did not provide “sufficient evidence that [Plaintiff's] age was the ‘but-for' cause of the adverse action . . . .” Buckner, 2017 WL 2601898, at *6. Notably, I concluded that “[e]ven considering the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, no reasonable trier ...


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